News & Articles


The Sweet Spot: Finding the ‘voice’ of the customer

blog post by Matthew Schwartz of ZoomInfo
October 19, 2010

Always thinking about the 'close' can be deadly, Roman says.

B-to-b sales execs can be forgiven if they view the “close” as the culmination of what, in many cases, can be a long and arduous process. However, for marketing guru Ernan Roman, the term “close” is deadly for b-to-b reps, like professional kryptonite.

“What the ‘close’ connotes is the end of the process: ‘I have finished my courtship. I got the kill, and now that I closed, I can move onto the next kill,’” said Roman, president of Roman Direct Marketing and author of the recently released, “Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Revolutionary Five-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend and Stay.”

But the close should be looked upon as the beginning of a relationship, not an end, according to Roman, whose clients include IBM, Life Line Screening, Microsoft Corp. and MSC Industrial Direct Corp. “This is as opposed to a life-time value oriented point of view, which says I have earned the right to drill deep into problem-solving, needs-assessment for the customer, which will make me a much more valuable resource and will drive, incrementally, significantly more revenue,” he said. Follow the Lead recently caught up with Roman for some other tips on how b-to-b sales can engage customers on their terms.

Follow the Lead: What are some of the most effective ways that b-to-b sales and marketing executives can improve their relationship?

Roman: One way of fixing it is having common metrics for success. Sales people are paid when they ‘close’ the sale and marketing is paid in tonnage, so its tonnage based versus quality-based. They both need to have a common measurement: lifetime value and satisfaction level of the customer. Marketing [also] has to be measured much more tightly, based on the quality and conversion rate of inquiries to leads, but it can’t stop there...[Both sides] are tasked with deepening the relationship. The ongoing communications stream that marketing drives is increasingly targeted and relevant information and the follow-up activity, whether it’s phone or a face-to-face meeting, that the field is driving to get to a deeper level of revenue for that customer.

Follow the Lead: What is the Opt-In process that you write about in your book and how does that differ from permission-based marketing?

Roman: The Opt-In process requires proactive engagement on the part of the customer in defining their message, offer and media preferences and establishing the rules of engagement the marketer must respect. By engaging in this level of proactive sharing of information, the consumer trusts and expects the marketer to safeguard and use properly this personal or business information. The price of reneging or violating that trust will be huge because customers will feel that their confidence and trust in the brand were violated and they were manipulated into sharing detailed information which was not used to provide value, but instead drove more ‘spray and pray’ blasts of irrelevant communications. ‘Permission’-based marketing was a good step in its time. However, it is passive, i.e., ‘You have my permission to send...’ instead of motivating the decision maker to proactively engage by providing detailed preference information.

Follow the Lead: How can sales executives enhance their methods for listening to their customers and work to capture their voice in every stage of the sales-and-marketing process?

Roman: Two ways. Number one: conduct formal voice of customer (VOC) research to understand how customers and prospects define their needs as they purchase products. [In surveys the company has conducted] we’re shocked at how often the answer is, ‘[Sales and marketing] don’t understand our needs, they are just order takers’...Many customers feel that most of their reps are not actively seeking to understand the needs of the business and how they could best use the sales rep’s products. Secondly, for many companies with multiple channels, customers in the VOC research indicated that they were often not aware of other sales or service channels offered by their vendors or suppliers because their sales reps didn’t tell them about these options. The reason for this was that field reps would lose some of their commission by introducing these other channels into their customer account. So, how crazy is it to have a compensation plan that builds in a channel conflict, versus encouraging multiple avenues of value for the customer?

New Book Release: Voice Of The Customer Marketing
"This is the definitive playbook for this new customer-driven era."
—Frank Eliason
Senior Director, National Customer Operations, Comcast
"Thank you, Ernan, for tuning us in to the inner voice of our customers! A deep understanding of our customers' needs and preferences is essential for our future growth."
—Karen Galley
President, Patient News Publishing